20 Movie Sequels Better Than the Original
From Aliens to Toy Story 2, these follow-ups put the originals to shame.
The Hollywood instinct to take advantage of a successful movie by making a sequel is understandable. But not every big screen story—no matter how well-received—deserves a second coming. In fact, most don't. As great as Speed is, we didn't need its Cruise Control sequel tarnishing its legacy. Nor did the world require a second Sex and the City film after six seasons and a movie. Given the diminishing returns of many plots, finding a follow-up film worth watching is hard enough. But these 20 movie sequels that are actually better than the original capture lightning in a bottle.
A good sequel is a treasure. It's proof that our favorite stories can take new, inspired directions—and surprise us along the way. From the best of the Harry Potter franchise to one of the greatest Batman movies out there, we've rounded up 20 movie sequels that are better than the originals. And for some more throwbacks, here are 40 Movies Turning 40 This Year.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Peter Jackson's epic trilogy adaptation of the renowned J.R.R. Tolkien novels is pretty much universally beloved, but he left it all on the floor with the last installment, 2003's The Return of the King. The emotional climax of the fellowship's gambit to save Middle Earth even earns every one of its multiple endings (seriously, just when you think it's over, there's another scene). A technical and storytelling masterpiece, the sequel won every single Academy Award for which it was nominated, putting it in a three-way tie with Ben-Hur and Titanic, both of which also have 11. For more winning flicks, here are 13 Great Oscar-Winning Performances That Still Hold Up.
Mad Max Fury Road
In 2015, filmmaker George Miller returned to his Mad Max franchise after three decades with this sort-of reboot, which puts Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa at the center of the narrative. The setting is still an apocalyptic wasteland, but this new chapter has a fresh and feminist bent, with Furiosa and Tom Hardy's Max fleeing from a power-hungry leading hoarding water, workers, and wives. Fury Road holds a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics placing it among the best action movies of the decade.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
For those of us raised on the original series, there is simply no such thing as a bad Harry Potter movie. We accept them all equally, as we would even the very worst of Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Beans.
But from a critical standpoint, it was in the third film, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, where director Alfonso Cuarón elevated the series from your typical young adult fantasy to a master class in the dark art of filmmaking. It marked not only a shift in the franchise's tone toward serious storytelling, but also a graduation of sorts for its young stars, who rose to the challenge of a more adult style. And for more great series, here are The 17 Best Movie Marathons You Can Stream Right Now.
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II followed up Francis Ford Coppola's original masterpiece with a part-prequel, part-sequel portrait of the Corleone family. Its initial reception was underwhelming—likely because of the high expectations people placed on it after the original and the choppiness of its structure.
But now, it's regarded as Al Pacino's defining performance and one of the best American movies of all time. It was also the very first sequel to win an Academy Award for Best Picture—not to mention five other Oscars!
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
More than a decade after the original Terminator came out, Arnold Schwarzenegger made good on his "I'll be back" promise. His character returned to save humanity from a future dominated by robot overlords in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
With an unparalleled blockbuster budget and under James Cameron's direction, we got to watch the Terminator battle a shapeshifting robot villain for the future of mankind—with state-of-the-art (for the time) CGI to make it feel believable. For more critically endorsed flicks, These Are the Top-Rated Movies on Rotten Tomatoes.
Magic Mike XXL
The first Magic Mike, loosely based on star Channing Tatum's own experience working as a "male entertainer," does pretty much what it says on the tin. Mike performs, trains a "new kid," falls in love, and eventually leaves the biz for his first love: making furniture (really). The 2015 sequel dispenses with the unnecessary plot, turning the whole affair into a road trip movie about Mike reuniting with his buddies to drive cross-country and show out at a stripper convention. On top of the inspired choreography, Magic Mike XXL delivers in legitimately moving male friendships, genre-appropriate silliness, and a sweet message about women deserving the escape they provide.
The Dark Knight
Several of the Batman sequels are better than the original. (Danny DeVito as The Penguin was pretty unforgettable in Batman Returns, for example.) But you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue against The Dark Knight for the top slot in the series.
In the 2008 film, Heath Ledger provided a haunting iteration of the Joker, for which he won a posthumous Academy Award. And the relatable moral complexity of each of the characters made filmmaker Christopher Nolan's continued take on Batman one of the best superhero films of all time.
Evil Dead 2
The Evil Dead trilogy forms an interesting arc that begins as pure horror and ends as an absurd comedy. But the second film in the series is better than the original because it manages to walk a fine line between the two that's rarely found in the horror genre. Evil Dead 2 still follows the gory formula of the original cult classic, but winks and nods at the audience while doing it. It's a true gem. And for more scary flicks, here are The 18 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now.
It's rare for a horror film to become an Academy Award contender, let alone an action horror sequel with a female lead. But this Sigourney Weaver classic was nominated for seven Oscars in 1987. Aliens was almost unanimously heralded as excellent filmmaking as soon as it hit theaters, and it saw huge returns at the box office, raking in $130 million worldwide.
A Time review that landed the film on the cover argued that the sequel is better than the original "in the reach of its appeal while giving Weaver new emotional dimensions to explore."
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 was originally intended for release as a direct-to-video sequel, as is the case with many animated movie follow-ups. But when Disney and Pixar realized the movie's potential, they upgraded the film to a theatrical release. And thank goodness they did.
The second film was an instant fan favorite, earning a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. In addition to its age-transcending humor and its all-star cast of voice actors, the sequel provided a tender rumination on "life, love and belonging," as Roger Ebert described in his 1999 review. And for more recommendations, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
George Lucas's 1977 film Star Wars: A New Hope was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, so the 1980 sequel had some big shoes to fill. The Empire Strikes Back captures the heart of the first chapter of the saga, with even higher emotional stakes.
Ebert called it "the best of three [original] Star Wars films, and the most thought-provoking." He continued, "After the space opera cheerfulness of the original film, this one plunges into darkness and even despair, and surrenders more completely to the underlying mystery of the story."
Lethal Weapon 2
Even at the height of the buddy cop film era in the 1980s, the Lethal Weapon franchise managed to lap the competition. In the original, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover star as war-hardened, world-weary police officers who spend nearly as much energy fighting their own demons as the film's villains.
But the sequel allowed the characters to evolve in a surprising direction. The rapport between the pair of protagonists added a much lighter comedic counterpoint to their dark backstories and infused some fun into the suspense-filled plot line of the original.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The original Gremlins is often criticized for being too dark and disturbing, so the lighter tone of Gremlins 2 was a welcome shift. It built on the cult following of the original but added self-referential humor that parodied the first film. On top of that, The New Batch includes hilarious, campy tributes to other movies like Rambo, The Wizard of Oz, and The Phantom of the Opera.
Hot Shots! Part Deux
Hot Shots! Part Deux is ridiculous. It's over the top, it's slapstick, and it's got a young Charlie Sheen with a mullet and lot of great one-liners. While it may not be a likely candidate for an Academy Award, its ability to make an over-the-top Rambo parody hilarious rather than cringe-worthy makes it a fan favorite. As Ebert put it, "Movies like this are more or less impervious to the depredations of movie critics. Either you laugh, or you don't. I laughed."
The Fast and the Furious: Fast Five
A few sequels in the Fast and the Furious series are better than the original, but Fast Five is where the story really comes together and flourishes. The franchise started as a somewhat insubstantial summer blockbuster about fast cars, cops, and muscle men. But it turned a corner in Fast Five to include a much more gripping heist storyline, higher emotional stakes, and sharper dialogue.
As a result, the audience's investment in the relationships between the so-called family at the franchise's center was greater than ever. Fast Five was intended to be the last film in the series, but it was so well-received that they've made four more since—and two additional films are currently in the works.
Addams Family Values
While many successful sequels owe their victories to a new director or dipping their toes into a new genre, Addams Family Values sat firmly in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" camp. Building on the first movie's charmingly-eccentric universe, this sequel added hilarious scenes of Wednesday Addams at summer camp, a disturbingly named newborn, and Joan Cusack as a murderous trophy wife. Her monologue as she goes through a slideshow of her past victims is truly iconic.
Blade Runner 2049
It took 35 years for someone to make a new Blade Runner, and it was well worth the wait. The original—adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?— was considered one of the best science-fiction films of all time.
But the second edition shines under the direction of Denis Villeneuve, expanding on the original film's plot, with the added benefit of stunning CGI effects, widely-heralded cinematography, and, of course, Ryan Gosling.
In Richard Linklater's 1995 romance Before Sunrise, Jessie (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) share a once-in-a-lifetime whirlwind romance during a single night in Vienna, thinking they'll probably never see each other again. So to follow up the film nine years later with the characters meeting back up for an afternoon is a fraught proposition: Not only could Before Sunset flop, it could destroy the magic of that perfect love, now frozen in time.
But this delayed sequel managed to capture that romance again, this time with characters a decade older, wiser, and even more relatable. It was followed up by 2013's Before Midnight, which sees Jessie and Celine facing some trouble further down the line.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games series peaks with Catching Fire, a film that delves ever deeper into the dark world of Panem and the underbelly of the games. It artfully juxtaposes the pain of the surviving tributes and the oppressed districts with the shiny veneer of a victory tour.
The cast is at its apex in the film, with Jennifer Lawrence giving her best performance of the series, not to mention the introduction of Academy Award-winning legend Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee.
The Bourne Supremacy
A good revenge sequel can be the most satisfying kind, and The Bourne Supremacy delivers with emotional depth, thrilling action scenes, and a moody, atmospheric tone that draws you back into Jason Bourne's world of espionage and vigilantism. It elevates the franchise to Bond status, and has us rooting for its complex hero-meets-anti-hero.